What a pleasure to interview Sergio Mendes, one of my musical heroes since I was a kid. The article appears in TIDAL Magazine, the highly readable online publication of the TIDAL streaming service (owned by Jay-Z).
Here’s one bit that didn’t make the final piece:
“Mas Que Nada” – Sergio’s signature song since Brasil ’66, a song that became the first-ever worldwide hit in Portuguese. The title means, approximately, “Yeah, right,” sarcastically, in Brazilian Portuguese. Sergio recalled when he heard the song for the first time:
“It was in Bottles Bar (the legendary Rio jazz hangout that witnessed the birth of Bossa Nova), maybe ’61 or ’62. This young kid, Jorge Ben, came in with his guitar and started playing it. It was so different from the very melodic stuff Jobim would do, a different vibe. But a great chant! When I play it in Japan, the Japanese sing along with it – it’s like the national anthem!”
I asked if he had any idea the song could become such an enormous worldwide hit in its original language. “Never!” he said. “When I first heard my record of it on the radio [in 1966], I called Herb [Alpert, his producer at A&M Records]. He said, “Sergio I think we’ve got a big hit here!”
Antonio Adolfo performs at The Blue Note in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Nov. 11. (Photo: Alexandre Moreira)
Although he may look more like a professor or kindly physician, Antonio Adolfo is, in reality, a killer pianist/arranger and master of samba jazz. In early November, the beginning of summer in Brazil, I went to the beautiful new Blue Note in Rio de Janeiro to get my samba fix. Adolfo led a septet that features some of the finest jazz musicians in Brazil. And then he introduced his guest, one of the great Bossa Nova singer/songwriters, Carlos Lyra. My story in DownBeat.
Clara Moreno is the daughter of the Bossa Nova stars Joyce Moreno (universally known in Brazil as just Joyce) and bandleader/composer Nelson Angelo. More to the point, she is a terrific samba singer. Her 7th album, Samba Esquema Novo (De Novo) (translation: “New Style Samba—Again”) on the U.K.’s Far Out Records, re-imagines a seminal 1963 album (Samba Esquema Novo) by the influential singer-songwriter Jorge Ben. He’s the guy who wrote the international hit “Mas Que Nada” (see Clara’s version below). If all this sounds a bit esoteric to you, I guarantee the rhythm will get you where you live. Here’s a “Players” profile I did about Clara from the November 2016 issue of DownBeat. You can find the album here.
Carlos Lyra at Birdland, NYC, May 29, 2015 (photo: Jack Vartoogian)
Brazilian popular music is so rich as to constitute a parallel universe to the American Songbook. And in that universe, no songwriters shine more brightly than Carlos Lyra and Marcos Valle, both of whom appeared at last week’s “BossaBrasil” festival at Birdland. Lyra was making a triumphant return to the U.S. stage after an absence of 50 years. My review is now posted at DownBeat.com.
Joao Donato performing in Tiradentes, Brazil, October 2014
Bossa Nova icon João Donato played and wrote with everybody, from Jobim to Gilberto to Chet Baker and Tito Puente. And at 80, he’s not slowing down. This was one of my all-time favorite interviews. To see why, see the article.
Two of the founders of Brazil’s Bossa Nova movement (and it was a movement), Marcos Valle and Roberto Menescal appeared together in NYC for the first time recently. Even if you don’t know their names, I’ll bet you know some of their tunes. Just got around to posting my review from DownBeat.com.